Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Evangelism, Proselytism, and Religious Freedom in Romania: An Orthodox Point of View

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Evangelism, Proselytism, and Religious Freedom in Romania: An Orthodox Point of View

Article excerpt

I. The Ambiguity of the Research on the Orthodox Church in Romania

There are many entry points into the current religious and political situation of Romania. Both old and new generations of experts in Eastern European and Romanian history have produced extensive sociopolitical analyses, yielding few insights, and even these are often inconsistent in their interpretations. Many specialized centers and authors become lost in the contradictory fabric of the Romanian context. Some claim to speak a definite and prophetic word on Orthodoxy in Romania, on the assumption that the traditional Byzantine churches are unable to understand what is happening in this historic transitional period: a crisis of paradigms and the need for new models to interpret and to renew the present realities. In reality, these comments have different motivations and objectives. For example, there are those who challenge the idea of a remnant of a "Constantinian church" and an ecclesiology that assumes the ideology of the Byzantine Empire. Most academic surveys and political reports are nothing more than recommendations for geopolitical strategies in the region, and many opinions voice personal indignation against the Marxist ideology and express the bitterness of their authors. The recent harsh criticism against the Orthodox Church in Romania signals the lack of clarity regarding Orthodoxy and politics in post-communist Eastern Europe.

Such comments - masked by relative objectivity - cannot remain unanswered, but ad hoc and precipitant answers are not the solution. My task is not to respond here to these but, rather, to encourage Romanian theology to give a firm reply, in form and context, following their analysis and interpretation. [1] It is absolutely necessary to examine - with the same insolence - and to question these radical criticisms, because they constitute part of the very problem of discrimination and proselytizing against the Orthodox Church in Romania. Moreover, they have engendered more controversy than clarity. They not only amplify the confusion among churches but also create a climate of confrontation and harshness. Therefore, the group working on renewal of the church (established in 1990) has to resume its work as a forum for profound interpretation both of the church's tribulations under a communist regime and of the sociological and cultural changes that have taken place within public life and within the organization of Christian communities, associations, and movements.

In the Cold War context of Eastern Europe, concern for the Orthodox churches, especially in Romania, has been interpreted almost exclusively in the framework of so-called "public issues" related to church-and-state relationships in terms of religious legislation. This was particularly true in the World Council of Churches. All the subjects in the following discussion will gain a fresh perspective if the framework is the contemporary experience of Jesus Christ in Romania.

II. Missiological Concepts and Realities

A. "National Church"

The claim of Orthodox to name theirs (in the new religious Law) the "national church" became a national dispute. Some saw it as the main cause of actual confrontation between the majority church and minorities. All non-Orthodox, ethnic Romanians or not, rejected this claim of a national church, not only on legal grounds, as being against the Constitution, but also because of their view about Christianity in Romania, its origin and cultural shape. For them the symbiosis among church, nation, and culture in Romania is a myth that has inspired the rise of nationalism today. While the Evangelical Protestant movement denies the Christian character of the Romanian people and history (their quasi-mentor, Mihai Ralea, a Marxist sociologist, describes the "Romanian phenomenon" as secular and religions as irrelevant to the people), the Catholic movement protests the political implications of the "national church" title. …

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